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SC gives CVC 2 weeks to complete probe against CBI chief

By Abhishek Anshu, Manohar Lal & Sanjeev Kumar
Last updated on: October 26, 2018 22:58 IST
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The inquiry will be conducted under the supervision of a retired apex court judge.

Interim CBI chief barred from taking any policy or major decision.

Observing that the crisis in the Central Bureau of Investigation sparked by the internal feud should not linger on in national interest, the Supreme Court on Friday set a two-week deadline for the Central Vigilance Commission to complete its ongoing inquiry against CBI chief Alok Verma and said a retired apex court judge will monitor the probe.

Both Verma and the CBI's number two Rakesh Asthana, a Special Director, were divested of their duties and sent on leave by the Centre on the intervening night of Tuesday and Wednesday in the wake of their bitter feud that triggered an unprecedented crisis in the 55-year history of the country's premier probe agency.


The court while giving the directions also sought the response of the Centre and the CVC to Verma's petition challenging the Centre's order to divest him of his duties and send him on leave,

The court also made it clear that from now on M Nageswara Rao, who is a joint director of the CBI, would only perform the routine tasks that are essential to keep the CBI functional.

Rao was given interim charge of looking after the duties of the CBI director after the top-level shake up.

The directions by the top court that was welcomed by both the government and the opposition Congress came amid nationwide protests outside the CBI offices by Congress leaders led by party chief Rahul Gandhi demanding "reinstatement" of Verma.

Gandhi courted arrest after leading a protest of party workers outside the CBI headquarters in the national capital and was taken to nearby Lodhi Colony police station where he was detained for 30 minutes along with other party leaders before they were let off.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the apex court order was a "positive development."

The court made it clear the supervision of the probe by a former supreme court judge was a "one-time exception" given the "peculiar facts" of the case and does not cast reflection on any authority of the government.

The bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi while directing that the CVC probe into the allegations made in the August 24 note/letter of the Cabinet Secretary with regard to Verma be conducted under the supervision of Justice(retd) A K Patnaik barred Rao from taking any policy decisions or any major decision.

"We make it clear that entrustment of supervision of on-going enquiry by the CVC to a former judge of this court is a one-time exception which has been felt necessary by this court in the peculiar facts of this case and should not be understood to be casting any reflection on any authority of the Government of India," said the bench, also comprising Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph.

The CVC has the superintendent authority above the Central Bureau of Investigation.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the CVC, said the commission was under the process of conducting inquiry and keeping in view the large number of documents involved, 10 days time would not be sufficient to complete the probe.

The bench said, "Okay, then 240 hours. We do not want this to go on. This is not in the interest of the country".

"We do not want this to linger on," the bench told Mehta, adding, "We are confident that CVC will do it".

Later, the court granted two weeks to the CVC to complete the inquiry.

After the 12-minute-long hearing on Verma's legal challenge that also included a plea for quashing Centre's order giving interim charge of his post to Rao, the bench issued notice to the Centre and the CVC.

After the court set the two-week deadline for the CVC to complete its probe, it adjourned the hearing and Verma's counsel Fali S Nariman could not press for the stay on the government's orders against Verma and giving charge to Rao.

The court further said that a list of all the decisions taken by Rao between October 23 and up to this hour including decisions with regard to transfer of investigations, change of investigating officer(s) etc will be furnished to the court in a sealed cover on or before November 12 -- the next date of hearing -- after which it would pass appropriate orders.

Shortly after taking charge, Rao effected transfers of 13 officers with most of them being considered close to Verma.

During the hearing, the court at first remarked that decisions taken by Rao since October 23 are not to be implemented but later it ordered that it would decide on that aspect only after perusing the decisions taken by him.

"The enquiry in respect of the allegations made in the note/letter of the Cabinet Secretary dated August 24, 2018 as regards the present Director, Central Bureau of Investigation Alok Verma shall be completed by the Central Vigilance Commission within a period of two weeks from today," the bench noted in its order.

Asthana has also moved the Supreme Court with a separate petition challenging the Centre's order against him.

However, the bench said that it cannot grant any hearing on the oral submission as Asthana's petition was not before it.

"We cannot hear something which is not before us," the bench said.

Senior advocate and former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Asthana, submitted that the petition has been filed before the Registry and sought that it be listed on October 29.

"We will see," the bench said.

Rohatgi further said that Asthana has also been made a party in the PIL, filed by NGO 'Common Cause', seeking the court-monitored SIT probe into allegations of corruption against top officials of the probe agency.

Nariman said the CBI director was appointed for a two-year tenure with the approval of a selection panel comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition and the Chief Justice of India.

"The question is whether the tenure could be breached at any time?," he asked.

The government on Wednesday said the allegations of corruption against each other by senior CBI officers "vitiated the official eco-system of the organization."

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Abhishek Anshu, Manohar Lal & Sanjeev Kumar
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